McLane Stadium made its debut before a crowd of about 17,500 on an idyllic summer evening with fireworks, anthemic music, prophecies of football glory and roars of approval.
For those visiting for the first time, Baylor University’s new $266 million stadium seemed to work its intended magic, even before the crowd made it across the Brazos River on the new Umphrey Pedestrian Bridge.
The footbridge became Selfie Central as students and townsfolk pulled out their smartphones to capture the towering stadium reflected in the river.
“It’s very magnificent,” Baylor senior Joe Bridgeman said as he got his photo taken with friends. “It’s a lot bigger in person.”
Standing at the end was Tommye Lou Davis, a longtime Baylor vice president who once headed the effort to acquire the riverfront site for the proposed George W. Bush Presidential Library. She said she is thrilled with the ultimate use of the site.
“It just takes your breath away,” Davis said. “I love the view from I-35, but I like it even more from the pedestrian bridge. You get the whole lay of the land — the tailgating area and the boat slips.”
Inside the stadium, the crowd cheered on members of the Baylor Bears football team and watched a hard-charging concert from “American Idol” winner Phillip Phillips.
Nick Joos, a Baylor associate athletic director, said the event served as a good test run for Baylor’s season opener Sunday against Southern Methodist University, and it appeared all the logistics ran smoothly.
He estimated the crowd at 17,500 and said he expected a crowd of 7,000 to 10,000 for Friday’s high school game between Aledo and Cedar Park.
In the concourse, Waco resident Lenny Lawson and his young son, Dalton, wore bear masks with the school colors of green and gold. He said McLane Stadium marks a new era for his favorite team.
“I love it,” he said. “I want my kids to be able to experience it. It’s exciting for Baylor to have this much electricity.”
Brian Alsin, a Gatesville native and Baylor graduate, said he has been watching the stadium rise from across the river at Baylor Law School, where he is a student.
“It’s great for Baylor, great for Waco,” he said.
Alsin said that after last year’s Big 12 Conference championship, more glories await Baylor’s football team.
“I have high hopes — maybe a Heisman for Bryce Petty,” he said.